To the People

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Senate Less Efficient Than That Wendy's Near Your Office Run By That Pimply Kid

The U.S. Senate is moving to privatize the cafeterias used by staffers and other Capitol Hill employees. Why, you ask? 'Cause they're tired of losing millions of dollars by running it themselves -- $18 million(!) since 1993:
The financial condition of the world's most exclusive dining hall and its affiliated Capitol Hill restaurants, cafeterias and coffee shops has become so dire that, without a $250,000 subsidy from taxpayers, the Senate won't make payroll next month.

The embarrassment of the Senate food service struggling like some neighborhood pizza joint has quietly sparked change previously unthinkable for Democrats. Last week, in a late-night voice vote, the Senate agreed to privatize the operation of its food service, a decision that would, for the first time, put it under the control of a contractor and all but guarantee lower wages and benefits for the outfit's new hires.

What went wrong? Well, it turns out that if you let the Congress run something, there's a very high probability that they'll fuck it up:
In a letter to colleagues, Feinstein said that the Government Accountability Office found that "financially breaking even has not been the objective of the current management due to an expectation that the restaurants will operate at a deficit annually."
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The Senate Restaurants, as the food service network is known, has a range of offerings, from the ornate Senate Dining Room on the first floor of the Capitol, where senators and their guests are served by staffers wearing jackets and ties, to the huge cafeteria in the Dirksen Building and various coffee shops throughout the Senate complex.

All told, they bring in more than $10 million a year in food sales but have turned a profit in just seven of their 44 years in business, according to the GAO.

In a masterful bit of understatement, Feinstein blamed "noticeably subpar" food and service. Foot traffic bears that out. Come lunchtime, many Senate staffers trudge across the Capitol and down into the basement cafeteria on the House side. On Wednesdays, the lines can be 30 or 40 people long.

The irony of this situation is not lost on the lawmakers:
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), speaking for the group of senators who opposed privatizing the restaurants, said that "you cannot stand on the Senate floor and condemn the privatization of workers, and then turn around and privatize the workers here in the Senate and leave them out on their own."

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